Independence clashes in Eastern Turkestan

Recent clashes between Uighurs and the Chinese Military in Ghulje City (Inin or Yining) in Eastern Turkestan (Turkestan) on 6 February 1997 have resulted in numerous deaths and increased ethnic tensions.

According to one source, the riots began when Chines police attempted to arrest two Uighurs talips (religious school student) from the mosque during a Ramadan religious service two days before the Islamic holiday Ramadan Eid. A fight broke out when worshippers refused to surrender the students and Chines police allegedly opened fire killing two Uighurs in the mosque.

The crowd responded by disarming and stabbing the police officers and Chines reinforcements of secret police and military officers were called into disperse the crowd. Shortly after, the people took to the streets leading demonstration against Chinese rule. After severe clashes with the military and police, around 30 Uighurs were killed and many more seriously injured. Other reports place the death toll at nearly 300. Uighurs of Chines killed range from 10 to 100.

Chinese officials claim the situation is under control after arresting hundreds of Uighurs and imposing curfews. Uighurs refugees abroad have staged demonstrations burning Chinese national flags and portraits of Jiang Zemin.

Following a communist takeover of the Republic of East Turkestan in 1949, the far-west province of “Xinjiang” is considered by China to be one of its five autonomous regions. The Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs face an influx of ethnic Chinese now accounting for around 38 percent of the population. Growing ethnic tensions resulted in a Beijing-ordered religious crackdown last year, targeting underground schools and mosques that promote separatist sentiments and, according to some sources, resulting in some 57,000 arrests.

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